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Authorities in Haiti say as many as 200,000 have died in last week’s devastating earthquake. Another 1.5 million people have been left homeless. The death toll continues to rise as relief agencies struggle to distribute food and water to those in need. The World Food Programme said it fed about 100,000 people in Port-au-Prince on Monday, just a fraction of the three million people in need of assistance. So far nearly all of the relief efforts have focused on the capital city of Port-au-Prince, while residents of outlying areas like Carrefour and Léogâne have been left on their own. A major fuel shortage is also hampering relief efforts. While many Haitians are fleeing to the countryside, hundreds of homeless families have set up a makeshift camp in Saint Pierre square in the Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince.
The US military has taken control of the only airport in Port-au-Prince and is facing criticism for diverting some aid planes. Doctors Without Borders says five of its planes carrying surgical teams and equipment weren’t allowed to land and were diverted to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. US forces also turned back a French aid plane carrying a field hospital. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused President Obama of militarizing the aid effort in Haiti.
President Hugo Chavez: “Mr. Obama, send field hospitals instead of so many soldiers, so that there are fewer soldiers with machine guns and rifles, and a generous amount of doctors and nurses and medical equipment.”
During a trip to Port-au-Prince, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the US response.
Hillary Clinton: “I want to assure the people of Haiti that the United States is a friend, a partner and a supporter, and we will work with your government under the direction of President Préval to assist in every way we can.”
Haitian President Préval left Haiti Monday to visit Santo Domingo for an emergency meeting to discuss financing the recovery effort. Dominican President Leonel Fernandez said it would take at least $10 billion over five years to rebuild Haiti. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Port-au-Prince on Sunday.
Ban Ki-moon: “It is unprecedented. It is one of the largest, most serious natural disasters in recent decades. For the United Nations, again, it was the single biggest loss in the history of this organization. That really compounds everything.”
Stories continue to emerge from Haiti of people surviving after being trapped for days. On Friday, an Australian TV crew helped rescuers save an eighteen-month-old girl named Winnie. The crew and rescuers moved the rubble piece by piece to get to Winnie, who was stuck in a collapsed house. Winnie was found after neighbors heard a baby screaming under the rubble. Once rescued, she was handed to her uncle, Franz, who said her parents had died in the earthquake. Deiby Celestino played a major role in Winnie’s rescue.
Deiby Celestino: “She is the hero, because she fought for three days, like I said. I mean, she’s still alive, and the man up there — it was a great experience. The man up there is the one that actually saved her, not me.”
Aid contributions for Haiti continue to pour in from around the world. On Sunday, a group of Palestinians in Gaza offered to send donations.
Jamal Al-Khudari of the Committee Against the Siege on Gaza: “We are sending donations, because, as Palestinian people, we suffered a lot, and we, the Palestinian people, feel more than other people of the world with the suffering of the people in Haiti. We suffer a lot, and we feel their suffering. That is why we decided to donate from the center of suffering, from the besieged Gaza.”
Private security companies are gearing up for work in Haiti. Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill reports a Florida-based firm called All Pro Legal Investigations is offering services in Haiti, including armed guards, “High Threat terminations,” dealing with “worker unrest,” and “Armed Cargo Escorts.”
Undocumented Haitian immigrants living in the United States have been given temporary protected status. Any Haitian that was in the country before the earthquake struck will be allowed to stay for eighteen months and allowed to work. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said any Haitians that attempt to travel to the United States will be sent back to Haiti.
In other news today, evidence has emerged suggesting the US military covered up the murders of three prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in 2006 by claiming they had committed suicide. A six-month investigation by Harper’s Magazine indicates the three prisoners were suffocated and tortured during questioning at a secret black site facility at Guantanamo known as Camp No. Scott Horton, the human rights attorney who broke the story, appeared on the MSNBC show Countdown last night.
Scott Horton: “I think now we know where they died. One of the big questions is, who’s the landlord at that facility? Who was running it? It really seemed to have been off the map for the Guantánamo command. Many of the soldiers speculated that this was a CIA facility. Other information we see suggests maybe JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command. But frankly, I don’t think this is something that was being run by the prison guards and the Gitmo command.”
A fourth prisoner at Guantánamo, a British citizen named Shaker Aamer, has alleged he was also partly suffocated while being tortured on the same evening when the alleged suicides took place. Aamer is the only British prisoner the US has not released. One of the main sources for the article, former staff sergeant Joseph Hickman, approached the Justice Department last year after President Obama was elected, but an investigation into his claims was shelved.
The Washington Post reports the FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 US telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records.
In Massachusetts, polls have opened in the closely watched special election to fill the Senate seat held for nearly five decades by the late Ted Kennedy. Up until recently, the state Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley was expected to easily win the race, but the latest polls suggest Republican State Senator Scott Brown could pull out a stunning upset. A Brown victory would deny Democrats the sixtieth vote they need in the Senate to surmount a possible Republican filibuster of the major healthcare reform package, which still needs to be reconciled by the Senate and House. If Brown wins the election, Democratic leaders could press the House to pass the Senate bill without change.
In Afghanistan, a small team of Taliban fighters launched a coordinated attack on the capital of Kabul on Monday. In a four-hour battle, the gunmen targeted the presidential palace, justice ministry, ministry of mines and a presidential administrative building. Five people were killed, and seventy were wounded. The attack began just as President Hamid Karzai was preparing to swear in fourteen members of his cabinet.
The Iraqi government is moving ahead with plans to open the nation’s oil fields to international oil companies. Earlier today, the Iraqi Oil Ministry said Iraq and a group led by Exxon Mobil will sign a final deal next week for the development of the West Qurna oilfield that contains nearly nine billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell signed a final contract on Sunday to develop Iraq’s Majnoon oilfield, one of the world’s biggest largely untapped fields. Shell’s chief executive, Peter Voser, traveled to Iraq for the signing ceremony.
Peter Voser: “We have been working in Iraq for around fifty years, and we look forward to actually come back and bring our technology and our people into Iraq in order to actually develop the oilfields of Iraq, in order to actually bring the oil to the worldwide customers.”
In news from Latin America, the right-wing billionaire Sebastián Piñera has been elected president of Chile, becoming the first conservative to win the presidency since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990. Piñera received 52 percent of the vote. Former Chilean president Eduardo Frei won 48 percent. Frei lost despite being endorsed by Chile’s popular president Michelle Bachelet, who was unable to run for re-election under Chilean law. On the campaign trail, Piñera said former members of the Pinochet government would not be allowed to serve in his cabinet, but Piñera has some ties to the former dictatorship. His brother, José Piñera, served as Pinochet’s labor minister and helped install the nation’s neoliberal economic program. Some members of Piñera’s coalition also served in the Pinochet cabinet.
Wall Street firms are launching a campaign to challenge the Obama administration’s proposal for a new tax on large financial firms to recoup bailout money handed out during the financial crisis. The New York Times reports a main lobbying group for the big banks, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, has hired a top Supreme Court litigator to study a possible legal battle against the bank tax. The lobbying group claims the proposed tax is unconstitutional because it would unfairly single out and penalize big banks.
In other finance news, Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd is reportedly considering scrapping the idea of creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. President Obama had proposed creating the agency to protect consumers against abuses in mortgages, credit cards and other forms of lending. The proposed agency had been widely criticized by Republicans.